Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
When I was a little girl, I was in possession of two things that made life interesting: A big imagination and a crazy uncle.
My imagination kept me in trouble. I would daydream through tests, tell stories to my friends as if they were the truth, and drag my little sisters from one “adventure” to the next.
My crazy uncle also caused trouble. Besides screaming contests and letting me say words like “piss” when my parents were out of earshot, his favorite pastime was telling me stories as if they were the truth. Usually I knew better than to believe him, but there was one that always got me: The Jabberwocky.
The Perfect “Bad Child” Meal
My uncle lived in the woods. Not in front of a wooded lot in the back of a subdivision. Not in a grove of trees just off the road. The real woods. A creek ran behind his house, cutting through what my 8 year old self saw as a ravine (but was probably just a big ditch). Pine trees grew high and thick between fat, vine-tangled oaks.
Outside of his yard, the forest scrub was so thick with briars that you could barely push through them. (Not that I didn’t anyway. I have a scar on my foot to prove it.) During the daylight, this was the best kind of playground. Stomping through the woods exploring, while the adults sat on the porch visiting, was the most fun a wild little girl could ask for.
When the sun began to set, the mosquitoes always forced me and my cousins back to the house.
“You better come inside before the Jabberwocky gets you,” my uncle would say, without so much as a hint of mischief in his voice. “That Jabberwocky lives in them woods. He’s big and mean. He’s got teeth the size of a man and he loves nothing better than to eat up bad little children.”
I would listen intently, practically able to see the Jabberwocky—yellow teeth and all—waking up from his daytime slumber, and ready to hunt his supper. And since I spent as much time in detention as in the classroom—I knew that I would make the perfect “bad child” meal.
You Hear That?
My uncle also had cows that lived in a fenced off portion of his wooded property. Sometimes at night, the giant orange and white bulls would bellow. “You hear that?” uncle would ask. “That’s him. That’s that old Jabberwocky! Sounds like he got someone.”
“Nuh-huh. That’s just one of your dumb cows,” one of us kids would usually answer, to which my uncle would raise his brows with a worried look. He’d jump from his seat on the sagging sofa, and rush to the window to peak through the blinds.
“Hurry. Cut off the lights,” he’d whisper. “I think the Jabberwocky must be close. Sounds like he’s done ate one of my cows!”
I’d tell myself he was lying. That it was just a story. That no one would let those poor, dumb cows get eaten by a Jabberwocky. But when it was time to leave, I always held tight to Mama or Daddy’s hand until I was safely inside the car. Just in case.
The Woods at Night
When I was a little older, I became slightly obsessed with the idea of the Jabberwocky living in the forest. I was old enough to know I should be embarrassed to still believe (I also believed in unicorns and mermaids) so I kept it to myself. I read Through the Looking Glass and memorized The Jabberwocky poem.
I would recite to anyone who asked (or didn’t ask…all I needed was an audience, they didn’t have to be willing). I repeated it over and over in my mind, dissecting it.
It burbles. It has eyes of flame. It whiffles. What is a slithy tove, anyway?
I didn’t know, but I could imagine.
When we would visit uncle, I would listen to his stories, pretending to not believe, pretending to be cool, pretending to be brave, but knowing that I’d never dare go in those woods alone at night.
The cows were probably fine.
But maybe not.
About Em Shotwell
Em Shotwell is the author of Blackbird Summer (City Owl Press, 2016). She lives in South Louisiana with a husband who spoils her and two mini-superheroes who call her mom. Em think the most interesting characters are the ones who live on the sidelines, and that small towns often hide the biggest secrets. She is inspired by tall tales and local legends.
When she’s not writing about magical misfits and lovable weirdos, Em enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, and debating Doctor Who facts with her obsessed ten-year-old.